Colour-changing windows get a palette upgrade

A new research paper could show how to easily and inexpensively expand the colour palette for glass that changes colour based on voltage. Researchers working on nanophotonics at Rice University have released a new report detailing how the use of the hydrocarbon molecule perylene can create glass able to turn two different colours at low voltage.

“When we put charges on the molecules or remove charges from them, they go from clear to a vivid color,” said Halas, director of the Laboratory for Nanophotonics (LANP), lead scientist on the new study and the director of Rice’s Smalley-Curl Institute.

“We sandwiched these molecules between glass, and we’re able to make something that looks like a window, but the window changes to different types of colour depending on how we apply a very low voltage.”

The new colour-changing glass varies its colouration depending on polarity, meaning that a positive voltage will produce one colour and a negative voltage another. The importance of the Rice team’s new method is that until now, multicolour varieties of such glass have required a much more significant voltage, limiting their use.

The type of glass itself, changing colour as a result of applied voltage, is known as electrochromic  glass and is enjoying growing popularity. The market for such material has been estimated at a value of more than $2.5bn by 2020. Aside from the visual appeal, electrochromic glass is in demand for its light and heat-blocking properties.

Grant Stec and Adam Lauchner of Rice University’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics show off the glass. Images courtesy of Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

In 2013, then-Rice physicist Alejandro Manjavacas found that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), the family of molecules that perylene belongs to, with just a few carbon rings should produce visible plasmons. There are dozens of PAHs, all of which contain rings of carbon atoms that are decorated with hydrogen atoms.

Waves of energy that can interact with and harvest energy from passing light depending on their frequency, plasmons are a rhythmic movement in the sea of electrons that constantly flow across the surface of conductive nanoparticles. Building off Manjavacas’ work, the researchers were able to work out that the PAH plasmons were highly sensitive to charge, leading them to the conclusion they could be easily utilised for electrochromic glass.

“Dr Halas learned that one of the major hurdles in the electrochromic device industry was making a window that could be clear in one state and completely black in another,” study co-lead author Grant Stec said. “We set out to do that and found a combination of PAHs that captured no visible light at zero volts and almost all visible light at low voltage.”

The new project took almost two years to complete and relied on Stec’s design of the perylene-containing nonwater-based conductive gel that’s sandwiched between glass layers. In experimenting with the assembled window, the team found that just 4 volts was enough to turn the clear window greenish-yellow, and applying negative 3.5 volts turned it blue.

Later in the project, the team produced a second window capable of going from clear to black. In all their experiments, they found that the colour change takes a few minutes but Halas said that the transition time is improvable with additional engineering.

Valve’s ‘Knuckles’ controller brings individual finger control to VR

With a prototype first revealed at the company’s Steam Dev Days conference last October, Valve’s new ‘Knuckles’ controller is now being shipped to developers as a prototype, while a blog post unveils a few more of the specs.

What’s important about the new controller is that it on only utilises an ‘open hand’ design that will mean you don’t have to spend your entire time gripping the controller like a weapon, but  it also features basic tracking for individual fingers.

The device is similar to the current HTC Vive motion controller, positioning in 3D space via Steam’s Lighthouse tracking system, but looks to build to the next stage of what can be done with motion control in VR. Specifically, Valve is looking to bring a much greater presence of your virtual hand into the market.

Moreover, they’re looking to make that virtual hand feel far more natural. With the controller able to grip onto your hand – think somewhat similar to securing your Wiimotes to your wrist – you’ll be able to operate in the virtual space with an open hand. While it may seem a small thing, it brings a whole new realism to any kind of grabbing or catching motion.

In addition, the ability of the Knuckles to track the movement of individual fingers could prove a real game-changer to virtual reality experiences.  Using a number of capacitive sensors to detect the state of your hands when your finger is on a button, or particular part of a controller, the controller will, according to the dev post, “return a curl value between zero and one, where zero indicates that the finger is pointing straight out and one indicates that the finger is fully curled around the controller”.

In essence, this means that the controller will be able to sense fine gradations of movement in each of your fingers, rather than relying on a binary “open” or “closed” status. Beyond lending a more organic feel to the use of your virtual hand, this will also allow users to make use of a range of hand gestures currently unavailable with VR controllers. A screenshot from a new version of SteamVR Home displays the possibilities with a Knuckles user’s avatar throwing up devil horns.

Images courtesy of Valve

It’s worth noting that this isn’t a perfect tracking system. While farther along than, for example, the Oculus Touch controllers, which allow you to slightly open your fingers while tracking the three non-index fingers together via an analog trigger, the Knuckles aren’t exactly ‘full’ finger tracking. Ideally, controllers will reach the point of knowing where your fingers are at all times with pinpoint precision. Until then however, the Knuckles are no small step forward.

The current Knuckles controller dev kit reportedly has a battery life of three hours and requires an hour of USB Micro charging to fill up (if accurate, these numbers put it roughly in the same realm as Vive controllers in regards to battery). We’ll have to wait on confirmation of this and other details,

Elon Musk speaks to LA's mayor about his Boring Company

Elon Musk said this week that he has held “promising conversations” with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, regarding the potential of bringing his recently formed Boring Company to the city. One of the ideas reportedly under consideration would see an express line to LAX airport from LA’s Union Station being built.

Source: Tech Crunch

Atari is back with a new console

Last week, Atari began teasing a new product called the Ataribox. Now, in an exclusive interview with GamesBeat Atari CEO Fred Chesnais has confirmed that the pioneering video game company is working on a new game console. “We’re back in the hardware business,” said Chesnais.

Source: Venture Beat

Nasa find 10 planets that could potentially host life

Nasa has added a further 219 candidates to the list of planets beyond our solar system, 10 of which may be about the same size and temperature as Earth, and may host life. Scientists found the candidates in a final batch of Nasa’s Kepler Space Telescope observations of 200,000 sample stars in the constellation Cygnus.

Source: The Guardian

Tesla Model S told driver to put his hands on the wheel before fatal crash

Federal regulators said on Monday, the driver of a Tesla Model S, who was killed in a collision while the car was in autopilot mode, did not have his hands on the steering wheel for a prolonged period of time despite being repeatedly warned by the vehicle that having his hands on the wheel was necessary.

Source: Ars Technica

Uber founder Travis Kalanick resigns

Having last week said that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence, Uber boss Travis Kalanick resigned as chief executive of the company this week after pressure from shareholders. His resignation comes after a review of practices at the firm and scandals including complaints of sexual harassment.

Source: BBC

Facebook defends against injunction to remove Oculus Rift from sale

Facebook and Oculus want a federal judge to let them continue selling Rifts despite a jury deciding Oculus stole another company’s computer code. Lawyers for Facebook said halting the sale of Oculus Rifts “would serve no one but ZeniMax, who would use it only as leverage to try to extract money from Oculus”.

Source: Bloomberg